The Federalism debate in the ISA – the Minority positions

The February 23-26, 2021 International Committee (IC) of the ISA voted on two documents that were supposed to be dealing with organizational issues and the building of the ISA.
The first document voted by the majority was titled Towards the Youth – Building a revolutionary international. 
The minority document, signed and presented by the IC members of the Greek section, was titled “Building the International” – an alternative proposal.
Although the document of the majority was supposed to be dealing with the building of the forces of the ISA, its real core was the development of a new position, which was that the real danger threatening the ISA was that of Federalism. This (potential, according to the majority) danger was inherited from the CWI.
Through what can only be described as theoretical acrobatics, “federalism” was identified as the root-cause of what the majority described as “national degeneration” (of a revolutionary organisation) which was then linked to Stalinism and Mandelism (in the words of the majority).
By taking this position the majority was, indirectly but clearly, deciding that what was until then commonplace in the ISA i.e. that the real problem in relation to the CWI’s internal regime was the lack of sufficient democracy, was no longer the case! It was also quite striking that at the same time as deciding that “federalism” and not the “democratic deficit” was the real problem of the CWI’s internal regime, the majority decided (at the same IC meeting) to start a discussion in the membership of the ISA on the roots of the crisis and split of the CWI (this discussion was described as the “Review”). But through its “building document” the majority was already deciding on one of the most important aspects of this issue, before the discussion had even started. We should add, in relation to this, that it took 13 months for the ISA (after the January 2020 congress decided to appoint a commission to make proposals) to decide on the procedures to be followed in relation to the “Review”; and its decision was that the discussions should… spread over a period of four years – i.e. they would end sometime in 2025, for a crisis that began in 2018. In this way (and in the name of a proper and in depth discussion) the majority was actually avoiding an immediate discussion on the roots of the crisis and of the CWI. We will present the related documents, as with all the important documents related to the debates in the ISA, in the next weeks.
It is of course no surprise that the Greek section and other sections in which the majority of comrades disagreed with the methods of the ISA leadership (Spain, Australia, Turkey, Cyprus, Taiwan -as we were to discover later- etc), plus minority comrades in other sections (particularly so in Sweden) had already been accused of federalism. The internal enemy was thus identified and it was described as representing a “mortal” danger to the future of the ISA.
Below, the document of the Minority, “Building the International – an alternative proposal”. The document of the Majority, is posted here: Towards the Youth – Building a revolutionary international


“Building the International” – an alternative proposal

Greek IC members:
Andros P., Eleni M., Nikos A. Nikos K., Natassa A. (candidate)
19.02.2021

We would like to start with an appeal not to vote on the building document (Towards the Youth – Building a revolutionary international) at the IC meeting of February 23 to 26 but to use it as a basis to start a discussion in the ISA. We propose this for two reasons. The first is that, in our opinion, it is characterized by some serious theoretical mistakes. Second, it is actually prejudging the outcome of the discussions on the Review on the reasons for the crisis and the split of CWI in 2019. The most important parts of this document, and more specifically paragraphs 39 to 80, are actually related to the “Review”. The IC should not take a decision on such central issues related to the Review, when the discussion is only just about to start after some initial introductions and contributions at the January 21 VMU. 

Finally, we believe that some key issues taken up in this document are related to the discussion on democratic centralism. Again, we should not prejudge the outcome of that discussion. We should give it time and, above all, link it to a serious study of the Bolsheviks’ tradition (of the time of Lenin of course) of democratic centralism, which is invaluable, particularly as the Bolsheviks are the only party in history which was able to lead a successful revolution and establish workers’ power. 

A general point on the document 

It is not an exaggeration to say that however hard any comrade may try one will not find a document in the history of our international current –the CWI and ISA– that “combines” some organizational tasks and experiences from sections (which are always very useful) together with the idea that the struggle against federalism is of such utmost importance that it acquires a central position in the most immediate tasks of the ISA. But also, we will not find anywhere, any material attempting to combine the “struggle against federalism” with a “theoretical” explanation of the dangers of “national degeneration” connected to the degeneration of Stalinism and Mandelism! 

The core of the document is paragraphs 39 to 80 (on the issues mentioned above). The central question is: what does this main theme of the document serve. 

It does not, in reality, serve successfully the idea of explaining the importance of Internationalism (as it argues at various points including in the title). The document very correctly stresses that the present-day movements, particularly the youth movements, incorporate internationalism in their basic understanding of the tasks of today. This makes the explanation about the need for internationalism much easier and straight forward than otherwise. Yet theoretically if we need to “explain” internationalism to the organisation, the main thing we’d need to do is to start by explaining that socialism by its very nature and inception is an international social system and not a national one. Based on this understanding Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg etc fought as internationalists and for socialism on an international basis, and for this reason strove for the creation of international organisations of the working class and not just national. At the same time the attempt to link theoretically “federalism” to “national degeneration”, Stalinism and Mandelism is a very serious mistake. 

What does “federalism” mean?

The document provides the following definition of “federalism” in paragraph 68: 

“From the point of view of revolutionary Marxism, federalism is understood as a tendency for organisations to exist as a collection of separate national parties, as opposed to a politically and organisationally cohesive world party”.

This is correct but it’s insufficient – it’s too general and it doesn’t in any way clarify the needs of the ISA today. The CWI was never a federal organisation, neither is the ISA, and nobody would disagree that we are against a federal organisation. The document actually accepts that federalism had never developed in the CWI! It states that it represented a danger for the future, a “drift” – but not a fact. This “danger” is posed in the document as a possibility. But if federalism never developed and if it doesn’t exist now, then why put so much emphasis to it? Why, even more, go as far as writing in paragraph 78 of the risk of “an international only in name”

“While many other factors and examples could be mentioned these suffice to paint a picture of the direction of travel in the CWI – a federalist drift that risked ending up with an ‘international in name only’”. (our emphasis)   

The real question about being or not being federalist is what it means in practice, concretely – and this is not touched upon at all.  What it actually raises, is the balance between the international centre and the sections in the decision-making process. What happens when there is a difference between the center and a section? 

Let’s take some concrete examples. In the past few months, the US section decided to make a tactical turn to the DSA. The matter was not discussed priorly in the IE or IC. Is this federalism? The Belgian section decided to take a new initiative around the BLM movement, “Solidarity”. This was also not discussed in the IE or IC. The same is true in relation to the EWS section where there were internal discussions over tactics to the Labour Party. Does the fact that these issues were not priorly discussed on an international level constitute federalism? In our opinion no, although we do believe that there should be reports to the IE and IC (for example, we discovered the new tactics in the US by reading a public article written by the US comrades). 

In the case of the US section, if the new tactics were discussed at the IC and the majority of the IC did not agree with the US comrades’ proposal, what should have been done in practice? Had the US comrades insisted on their opinion after listening carefully to the arguments of the opposite side, would this constitute federalism? These are the concrete and real questions which are raised by this discussion. 

Let’s take another example. In 2012 a member of the IS visited Greece, expressed his disagreement with the fact that the Greek section was no longer an official part of SYRIZA but only had part of its forces working inside SYRIZA. The IS member insisted until the very last day of his stay (he stayed for about 4 weeks in total and visited all main regions) that the section should fix a date for the return to SYRIZA. The Greek section did not agree. In the months that followed IS members unanimously defended the positions expressed by the IS member that had visited Greece. Should the Greek section have retreated under the pressure of the IS or stuck to its position? Was its refusal to accept the IS position federalism? 2 – 3 years later the IS changed its position on the basis of the experiences in other countries, and openly said on many occasions that the Greek section was correct. Thus, the Greek section from a political point of view was absolutely correct and it had actually offered advanced warning about what was to come in other countries and, also, about how to prepare and adjust the tactics of the International to the relevant new conditions and relevant new phenomena. 

The “Scottish Turn”, which was one of the central political issues that led to the split with TG & AW in 1992 was another such example. The “support” to the idea of the then Scottish comrades to implement the Turn was not –necessarily– on the basis of political agreement with the Turn as such, but on the basis that the ex-comrades should have the freedom to execute it. In other words, we were defending the autonomy of the Scottish organisation and its right to decide. We were also rejecting TG’s out of touch with reality position that the tactical turn of the ex-comrades represented an abandonment of fundamental principles of the CWI.

The substance of this discussion, therefore, is not “federalism” or “not federalism” – we are all opposed to federalism. It is how to tackle complex issues that arise, how to handle different views, how the international center can assist the sections, but also how to learn from them, how to avoid formalism and look at the political substance of things. This kind of questions acquire crucial importance when such issues are raised in conditions of a revolutionary or a prerevolutionary situation. These important questions cannot be answered by taking a “general” position on “federalism”. 

We are in the process of setting up a new international and a new international leadership. This, as we explained on many occasions, will take time. Sensitivity and patience are the crucial values that have to be embodied in our work at the same time as striving to build our sections on the basis of correct political analysis and organizational methods. Running the international center is an entirely different matter from running a section, particularly a small one. Any attempt to transpose the way a section is run to the whole international, will inevitably fail. And any attempt to reinforce the centre “artificially” will mean problems for the International.

What do “autonomy” of the sections and “sensitivity” of the centre mean?

Relations between the international center and the sections must of course be continuous and comradely. The international center must always offer its opinion, advice, wide ranging experience etc. It must do so with care. In relation to the work in the specific conditions of a country the section is best positioned to decide on the “details” of what is to be done. It is impossible for any center, however experienced and even authoritative, to know the details and decide on the specifics of a situation in any given situation in any country. There is a limit to how far and how much the international centre must and can intervene. 

Where the international centre has to intervene, in a clear manner, is when issues of principle are raised. In such cases the center has the obligation to intervene and can demand that the decisions of the International, (after a discussion in the whole International) are carried out. If the section refuses then there’s a case of federalism. However, even in such cases it is necessary to follow sensitive procedures and keep away from any kind of formalistic or administrative approach. 

Such a case was, for example, the creation of the Scottish Socialist Party, in the ’90s. It was a case of federalism, as the old Scottish organisation refused to accept the unanimous decision by the rest of the International on an issue of crucial importance: the liquidation of the revolutionary party into a broader formation! But even then, correctly, no administrative measures were taken, the section was not expelled.  

This discussion is linked to the issue of Democratic Centralism, a debate that was started in the ISA in the course of 2019 and to which we shall come in the course of the present document. 

What changed in the last 10 – 15 years?

Let’s have a closer look at the way the document is approaching some of the aspects of “federalism”.

“Internally, the 1980s and 90s, alongside annual summer schools, saw international gatherings of leading youth and women comrades, treasurers, editors, etc. Bilingual international bulletins (English and Spanish) were produced. The international full-time staff was increased and the international centre assisted, intervened and kept up a dialogue with sections. (paragraph 61)

This gradually disappeared in the 10-15 years leading up to the 2019 factional struggle and split. The process will be fully discussed in the evaluation which ISA decided to initiate at the World Congress in early 2020. Here we can only briefly examine the federalist drift which to different degrees developed out of a lack of real discussions and political clarity, plus the reduction in visits and exchange between the IS and the sections. Criticism was either not raised, done in closed circles or just left to one side”. (paragraph62 – our emphasis)

In paragraph 61 we see a rosy and one-sided picture of the CWI in older times (the ‘80s and ‘90s). Problems with democracy and a top-down approach existed, in our experience, both in the ’80s and the ’90s (and certainly before that) but nothing of the sort is mentioned. The FT stuff was increased both in the course and after the 80s and 90s, but in a limited and wrong manner, based on what has been correctly described as “Anglocentrism”. (par. 71) 

The picture created by paragraph 61, is that everything was good until the last 10 – 1 5 years but then things began to go bad. This does not correspond to the real history of the CWI. 

Paragraph 62 states that the process of the Review of the crisis and the split of the CWI will be fully discussed in the next period, and that “here we can only briefly examine the federalist drift…”

Two important questions are raised. The first one has already been mentioned and we will deal with it again further down in the course of this document: why select federalism as the only aspect of the deficiencies of the CWI to discuss in this document? What is the specific need served by prioritizing “federalism” in such a way? The second question has also been taken up at the beginning: if the Review has just started why take up one aspect of the Review and decide on it before the discussion has even started? 

The document, as mentioned, by taking up “federalism” and proposing a decision on it, is prejudging the outcome of a discussion that is supposed to include the whole of the international organisation. 

The role of the IEC and the democratic deficit in the old International 

Paragraph 62 is also revealing in another aspect. It says that 

“criticism was either not raised or done in closed circles or just left to one side”. 

What criticism is the document referring to? Criticism from the center towards the sections (i.e. criticism directed against “federalism”) or criticism from the IEC members and the sections to the IS?

As regards criticism of the IS to the sections’ leaderships and work, there is no question that this was indeed taking place though, as a rule, behind the scenes, not in a frank and open way and in an atmosphere of “gossip” rather than a proper political exchange. There were of course some cases of open debates, like on the Euro, China, SYRIZA etc., but these were actually “imposed” on the IS, either due to the pressure by sections, or because they reflected a crisis situation. Also, these debates were often carried out in an atmosphere that we would not describe as “healthy” (sometimes, actually, it was quite toxic). 

In relation to perspective discussions, in general, the IS played an extremely domineering (to put it mildly) role and as a result of this there was rarely a real discussion. IEC members tended to speak about their countries and make secondary amendments. Whenever some serious political proposals were made by IEC members, there was a clear attitude by the IS to either ignore them or dismiss them. 

This raises the question about the role of the IEC, to check and correct the IS. The first thing to mention in relation to this, however, is that this was not a phenomenon only of the last 10 or 15 years but of the whole history of the CWI. The same characteristics of a top-down method by the IS that dominated in the latter part of the history of the CWI also dominated in its earlier life. Actually, the regime was “tougher” and more authoritarian before the 1992 split, with Ted G. making repeated and serious mistakes and refusing to recognize them (as we will refer to further on) and Allan W. being the most arrogant of all the IS members.

The question mark over the role of the old IEC and the two IS members that joined the majority in the CWI, is also raised through what is written in other parts of the document as well. Thus, in para 69 we read: 

First and foremost, the CWI’s federalist drift was rooted in the qualitative decline in its approach to world perspectives. This both reflected the declining political ability of central individuals, as well as the absence of a sufficiently collective approach to political leadership”. (our emphasis)

And in paragraph 71: 

“…Instead of starting from a thorough analysis and explanation of world processes, world perspectives documents tended to resemble more a series of brief and often superficial commentaries on events in one country after another, rounded off by all-encompassing statements of the obvious.” 

A number of correct points are raised in these criticisms. It is absolutely correct that there was no collective approach to political leadership. It is also correct that the world perspective documents had indeed serious weaknesses, resembling in many ways brief and superficial commentaries on different countries and regions. 

But then, as mentioned above, the question is, when did the comrades of the old IEC and IS who raise these points now come to understand that they existed? Why did they not raise them before? What attempts did they make to understand the problems in depth? Why did they never raise this kind of criticisms, after many years and decades that they have been playing a role in the international leadership? 

The answer to this “paradox” is that the CWI had an internal regime that discouraged critical thinking, criticism and a free and democratic exchange! 

The document mentions that the IS was “Anglocentic” (paragraph 71) in the sense of the vast majority of the IS members came from the EWS section and this is correct. But it was also centered around one individual, Peter T. The international center demanded “trust” and “loyalty”. Any kind of criticism was met with defensiveness and hostility. The problem of a democratic deficit was there all the time. The IEC had unfortunately “accommodated” itself to this situation and rarely reacted. Even then, it was a small minority reacting and challenging the IS – apart of course from the debate that led to the split.

The old IEC and IS members (who now make up the majority of the IC) have a responsibility for this situation; they have to accept it and include it in any relevant document. This includes of course the Greek members of the old IEC. Even though the Greek section was perhaps the section with most controversies with the IS (and we’ll provide material related to this in the course of the Review) we take full responsibility for not raising in a bolder manner the problems we saw in the internal regime of the CWI. 

The lack of a healthy democratic internal regime, the “messianic” conception of leadership, was the main reason why we ended up in a split. As the IEC majority had explained at the time, the political differences in themselves did not justify a split. The resolution of the December 2018 IEC (majority) stated that: 

“While important differences of approach have surfaced the IEC does not believe these represent fundamental issues of principle, and believe that an organised discussion in the best democratic traditions of the CWI can result in principled agreement and strengthening of our forces to face the historic challenges facing Marxism in the next period.”

What led to the split was the fact that the leadership found itself in the position of a minority and was not willing to accept it! Then a whole number of political differences that were indeed real, were blown beyond proportion! 

Tragically, this was essentially a repetition of what had happened with the 1992 split. Ted G’s opposition (together with Alan W) to the rest of the EWS leadership and the IS did not start on the basis of political differences but on the basis of alleging that there was a clique in the International leadership trying to undermine them. 

To sum this up, the issue of the democratic deficit was a key problem in the CWI! It was always there and it is this that led to the split! This approach is absent from the document. Instead, the emphasis is put on “federalism”. If, however, the democratic problem of the CWI was not and still isn’t understood by the old IEC majority what confidence can we have that in the future we won’t see history repeating itself? 

Some further insights into the “federalism” argument 

As mentioned at the beginning, the document does not state that “federalism” existed in the CWI. It only refers to “a process of a federalist drift”. In paragraph 68 we read:

“However, there is another side to our inheritance from the CWI. Despite our impressive geographical extension, we have also inherited an organisation in the process of a ‘federalist’ drift over a period of years.” (our emphasis)

Paragraph 72 argues that although the drift existed, it did not lead to major political mistakes by the sections, due to the political strength of the cadre in the CWI.

“In practice, it meant that instead of starting from a rounded-out framework and revolutionary strategy, national sections were to a great extent left to elaborate their perspectives and work “from scratch”. It is a testament to the political strength of cadre throughout the majority of the CWI, that this situation did not lead to major political mistakes by our sections”. (our emphasis)

The following paragraph, no. 73, argues that if the ISA does not reverse this drift it will end up in the “degeneration of the revolutionary party” and in “national degeneration”:

“But there can be no doubt that if such a situation had continued or developed further, and if ISA does not manage to reverse this process, this will be the outcome. As we have seen above, the degeneration of revolutionary parties is always, at least partially, national degeneration. (our emphasis) 

Thus, according to the document, the sections were in good health, they had able and developed cadre which        enabled them to be correct politically despite the political weakness of the international center. There was no real federalism but only “the process of a drift” in that direction. Despite this, the main problem that the ISA must tackle is federalism, i.e. the danger of losing its internationalist character. This is not yet here, but if the ISA does not reverse the “drift”, ISA will lose its internationalist character! 

This is not analysis based on arguments and evidence. The document does not substantiate the supposed dangers of the “federalist drift” which are not present now but are looming in the future. It is a false alarm. In addition, if these dangers were there, for the last 10 to 15 years, why did the comrades in the IEC majority never mention them in the past? 

The difference between a non-federalist and a more international International

Having said the above, we should of course clarify that in our opinion elements of federalism did exist in the CWI, but of a different character and in no way constituting the kind of danger referred to in the document. A sense of proportion is always of crucial importance in the work of revolutionary Marxists. Federalist elements were mild and did not constitute a serious danger. The International was not as international(ised) as it should be, and that is something that must be corrected. This can actually be done easily – with more events, more exchanges between sections, more easy contact between national leaderships and members, utilization of electronic communication, internal sharing of materials and contributions in clouds and internal websites, informing and generalizing successful initiatives etc to this purpose. 

Federalism in the CWI, in practice, meant that different sections were taking initiatives in various directions, on their own (i.e., without consulting the centre first) which as a general rule were correct. Such examples are ROSA, taken by the Irish and Belgian sections or Green Attack, an environmental formation initiated by the Greek section, etc. With the exception of Rosa in Ireland (and that in the period close to the split) the IS did not obstruct such initiatives. Such initiatives will always be taken by sections, on a national basis, under all circumstances. This would be the natural result of a lively International, meaning lively sections energetically intervening in their social space. What the IS did not do was to show interest, generalize and internationalise such initiatives once they proved correct and successful. This is what we can and must correct in the next period. 

Having said this, we should remember that it is not always possible or even correct to ”internationalise” every successful initiative on a national level. The YRE in 1992 was very successful, but “International (Socialist) Resistance”, initiated at the beginning of the 2000s, did not take off and was abandoned soon after its creation. 

Political problems 

The above approach does not contradict the fact that there were very serious political weaknesses in the CWI. It is not accurate that the old IS did not attempt to draw generalized conclusions, the problem was that these conclusions were often weak, not properly balanced, inaccurate, or even wrong. However, this was not just a problem of the IS but of the whole IEC, as mentioned above, which approved and voted for these documents. 

It is correct that much of the documents “tended to resemble more a series of brief and often superficial commentaries on events in one country after another” as par. 71 states. But what is more important is that on a number of occasions the general perspectives were wrong – this is not mentioned in the document. The issue of the Euro was of course an obvious such example (the IS insisted that the Euro would not come into being or that it would collapse very soon, against the arguments mainly of the Swedish and Greek comrades) but it was not the only one. 

Both after the dot.com stock market crash in 2000 and after the Great Recession of 2008-9 the IS and the IEC expected a much deeper crisis, economically and socially, a breakdown of globalisation, a turn to protectionism and a major rise in class struggle on a global scale that would push consciousness “with leaps and bounds” in an anticapitalist and socialist direction. This perspective proved overoptimistic. 

The IS also underestimated the importance of the anti-globalisation movement of the 2000s – and this was one of the aforementioned issues that caused serious controversies in the IEC meetings. More recently of course, it completely underestimated the importance of climate and the new feminist movements. 

Having said these, we need to remember that not everything was wrong with what was said by the old IS. For example, its analysis on perspectives in relation to the emergence of New Left Formations in the 1990s, was correct and important. The same in relation to the dual task. Secondary differences of course did exist in relation to both. Also, in relation to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The initial overoptimistic perspective (of the “red 90s) was corrected relatively soon: the CWI was one of the first if not the first Trotskyist international organisation to recognize capitalist restoration in the USSR and to explain that this was a major defeat, though not as deep as the rise of fascism in the 1930s. After the 2008-9 crisis, despite the overoptimistic perspectives, it grasped the importance of the “Occupy” movement and pushed in that direction. And as mentioned above, despite the initial mistake in relation to SYRIZA it was able to correct it relatively soon. These incidents are mentioned for the sake of a proper balance. We are not attempting here to provide a complete, or even extensive, list of the correct or not correct positions taken by the old IS. 

There is another aspect to this discussion. The impression is being created that contrary to the political weaknesses of the IS in the “era” of Peter T., Ted G’s contribution was much, much more important and historically significant. We can discuss that, but we need to have a sense of balance here as well. At the same time as recognizing TG’s contribution, we should not forget that he also made serious mistakes in the 1970s and 1980s. He was mainly responsible for the overoptimistic perspective of the 1970s that workers’ power and socialism was a matter of 3-5-7 (which in the ’80s became 5 – 10 – 15) years as he used to stress in every speech. He took a wrong position on the (non-realistic) possibility of conscription at the time of the Falklands’ war; on the issue of South Africa, he vehemently opposed the view of the South African comrades that apartheid could be (semi-)abolished under capitalism. On the poll tax campaign, he was against Militant’s MPs going to jail for refusing to pay the tax, etc. 

These are not widely known and therefore some cdes may question them. What cannot be refuted however is that on the issue of tactics towards Social Democracy, that became the central issue of debate and the split in 1990-91, he was widely off the mark. He had elevated the tactic of “entrism” into some kind of principle – which was tragic for a Marxist. The same was the case with the Soviet Union: he condemned the pro-democracy movement in 1991 and only accepted the capitalist restoration in the USSR with a delay of nearly a decade. 

CWI’s double deficit

What is the main point of all the above? That there was a “double deficit” in the CWI from its beginnings. Both on the level of political analysis and on the level of a healthy internal democratic regime. Of course, these were not independent from each other – there is a dialectical relationship between the two, one “feeds” on the other and vice versa. 

Political mistakes are absolutely inevitable. The question posed is how can they be corrected. If the leadership identifies itself with “unique” qualities, not to say “infallibility”, if it demands “loyalty” as used to be the case in the CWI, then there will be a huge resistance to recognize mistakes. And if the culture in the organisation is for the second- and third-line cadre and the membership to accept this situation as “normal”, then we have a very serious problem with internal democracy. The tendency then will be for mistakes not be recognized and corrected and the leadership to remain unchecked, thus intensifying its “messianic” characteristics. This in its turn will further suppress the kind of deep and thorough democratic culture that is necessary for the party in order to fulfil its historical tasks. 

We have however, as already mentioned, the legacy of Bolshevism, the most democratic party that ever existed, as Trotsky repeatedly stressed. The lessons from the internal life and culture of the Bolsheviks, is all the more crucial because they were the only party that was able to capture power and establish the first workers’ state. We develop the lessons from the Bolsheviks further towards the end of this document. 

On Stalinism, Mandelism and “national degeneration” 

If the importance attached to the general approach of the federalist drift is very problematic, it’s association with the arguments raised between paragraphs 39 and 69, linking federalism to national degeneration, to Stalinism and to Mandelism, is staggering. From a theoretical point of view this is like standing reality on its head.

This section starts with a phrase which is indicative of a superficial approach. Paragraph 39 states that 

“the working class is international, the bourgeois classes ultimately are national.”

The working class has common international interests there is no question about it. And the interest of the bourgeois classes are ultimately national – there is also no question about this. But this does not mean the working class is international – this is a poorly formulated phrase that obscures rather than highlights the real connection of internationalism and the working class. The working class is divided into endless categories, languages religions, colors, etc which the bourgeois exploit in order to oppress it and prevent common struggle. This of course is a small mistake that can be easily corrected by deleting this phrase – but is still a mistake. [1]

Paragraph 41 raises a number of questions about its usefulness as what it says is correct but out of context. It uses a quote from Trotsky, that explains the importance of the international program for the International and explains that this must proceed directly from an analysis of the conditions and tendencies of the word economy. This is obviously correct but why is it mentioned? Trotsky mentioned this in a specific context: the program of the 3rd International in the 1930s was determined not by the conditions and tendencies of the world economy but by the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy which had established itself in the USSR. This point is not relevant to what we are discussing today and to the objective situation of today. This also however is a small problem. Ιt can be corrected by explaining the historical context or by removing the paragraph. 

“socialism in one country”

Paragraph 42 however reflects the serious problems which characterize this section of the document. 

“One of the crucial differences between genuine Marxism and both Social Democracy and Stalinism is the defense of real internationalism in politics, method and organisation. Stalin’s policy of “socialism in one country”, was possible because of defeats of revolutions in other countries and Russia’s backwardness strengthened by the effects of WW1 and civil war. In practice its effect was to secure the power of the bureaucracy in Moscow above everything else, leading to major defeats of the working class in the 1920s and 30s. Eventually, this lack of an internationalist revolutionary Marxist approach caused the collapse of Stalinism”. (Our emphasis). 

There is an important theoretical error hidden in this paragraph. The Stalinist theory of socialism in one country is seen as the main tool through which the bureaucracy secured power. 

The bureaucracy did of course rise in the conditions of the backwardness of the Russian economy and society, of civil war, imperialist invasion, “war communism” and isolation, and in the defeats of the European revolutions – the Hungarian revolution of 1919 the Italian revolutionary uprising of 1920, the German revolutions of 1918-9 and 1923 etc. 

In these conditions it captured power inside the party before Lenin’s death and before the formulation of the theory of “socialism in one country” which appeared after Lenin’s death. Lenin spent the last part of his life trying to fight the Stalinist bureaucracy, but lost the fight. Had he not died the result might have been different, but this is far from certain. Thus, the theory of “socialism in one country” was a symptom, an effect of the bureaucracy’s capture of power. At the same time, it was of course used to strengthen the bureaucracy. When formulated, as Trotsky writes in Revolution Betrayed.

“…the purpose of this new theory was to introduce into the social consciousness a far more concrete system of ideas, namely: the revolution is wholly completed; social contradictions will steadily soften; the kulak will gradually grow into socialism; the development as a whole, regardless of events in the external world, will preserve a peaceful and planned character.”  

“Having won their independence from the proletariat of their own country, the bureaucracy cannot recognize the dependence of the Soviet Union upon the world proletariat.”

Yet the power of the bureaucracy was not secured by the policy of “socialism in one country” but by the civil war inside the party. The purge of the opposition inside the party starting immediately after the death of Lenin reached its peak with the Moscow trials. Stalinism led to the defeats of great revolutions, like the German revolution of 1923, the Chinese revolution in 1925, the Spanish revolution in the 1930s, etc. But it was not the lack of internationalism or the theory of socialism in one country that led to “major defeats of the working class in the 1920s and 30s” (and to “the collapse of Stalinism”)!It was the fact that Stalinism was by its very nature an enemy of workers’ power, by definition a counter revolutionary force. 

The document takes one of the manifestations of Stalinism (“socialism in one country”) and elevates this into the decisive factor for the consolidation of its power, for the defeat of mighty revolutions internationally, and, in the end for its own collapse. This is wrong. In the same paragraph, 42, we read 

“Stalinism led to the national degeneration of the sections of the Third International…”

This is another serious mistake! Stalinism did not lead to the “national degeneration of the sections of the third international”, it led to the subordination of the communist parties internationally to the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow. It led to the purge of all revolutionaries in the third international so as to turn the International into a tool in the service of the interests, power and privileges of the Stalinist bureaucracy. 

The document elevates “national degeneration” to the key factor for the failure of great revolutions, for the consolidation of the power and the demise of Stalinism, etc. These are serious theoretical mistakes.

Mandelites 

Actually, according to the document, “national degeneration” was also a decisive reason for the degeneration of the 4th International (USFI or “Mandelites”). In paragraph 51 we read:

National degeneration was also a key factor in the degeneration and fragmentation of the Fourth International.” (Our emphasis)

And again, in paragraph 55, referring to the 4th International:  

Real internationalism was replaced by impressionism, with leaderships opportunistically adapting to new events. Rather than put forward a perspective based on the power of the world working class in opposition to Stalinism and capitalism, the leaders of the Fourth international tail-ended national phenomena sowing illusions in the guerilla struggle in Cuba and internationally, the role of the peasantry and the leaderships of the colonial revolution in general, as well as Maoism and left reformism. The Fourth International lost its emphasis on the centrality of the role of the working class, while at the same time lowering its revolutionary profile…”. (Our emphasis) 

To start with, guerilla struggle, Cuba, the colonial revolution, Maoism (all of these are linked to the peasantry in different degrees) and left reformism, are not “national phenomena”. All the above were international phenomena of a very serious magnitude. The colonial revolution shook the planet in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and it reflected the manifestation, in a particular sense or in a distorted way, of the theory of the permanent revolution in conditions of economic backwardness and imperialist exploitation in conjunction with the existence of the Soviet Union. Τhe 4th International did indeed tail end such phenomena, as it did with left reformism, but this had nothing to do with national phenomena, as these were factors and processes developing on an international scale – thus they are unrelated to “national degeneration” and “federalism” as the document claims and repeats later on.

The document, in analyzing the central problems with the 4th International repeats the same mistake as with Stalinism: it takes a symptom of its degeneration and considers it to be the root cause of the problem. The 4th International degenerated and fragmented not because of “national degeneration” but because of a theoretical/political deficiency in the core of its character and its composition. Its politics and method represented a petit bourgeois radical trend on the edges of Trotskyism. It capitulated to all kinds of pressures (guerillaism, left radical and reformist leaders, etc) not because of “national degeneration”, but because of its petit bourgeois organic characteristics. It watered down its programme and ended up in the camp of opportunism or sectarianism. Then, and as a result of all these organic problems it developed into a loose federation of parties, each of which did whatever they wanted, often abandoning even the basic principles of revolutionary Marxism (like entering capitalist governments). Once again, the ideological and political degeneration of the 4th International was not the result of its national degeneration and its federal character, but the contrary was the case, its ideological and political degeneration led to its federal character, in the real meaning of the word.

Of course, the 4th International tail ended another phenomenon, which was also not national, but international: this was the youth. After May 1968 in France, it turned its forces massively to the students, seeing them as the new power engine for the revolution (together with the peasant guerilla armies in the colonial countries). The document does not mention the turn of the Mandelites to the youth. At the same time the emphasis that the document is trying to put on the youth work, is done in an uncareful way. In para 6 the document states:

“…the revolutionary party is fundamentally a party of youth”

The youth has a vital role to play in the revolutionary party. And building in the youth is unquestionably key for the next period and for the future. However, the revolutionary party is a party of the working class – this is a basic premise of Marxism. The force that can change society is the working class because of its position in production. Of course, part of the working class are young workers who will be massively attracted to the party.

LLSP 

The mistake of elevating federalism into the “mother of all evil” is also shown in paragraph 58: 

“The LSSP entered a government with the SLFP in 1964, a key blow to Trotskyism, and a result of the federalism within the then ‘united secretariat’ of the Fourth International. The LSSP was ultimately expelled from the international, but the same trends continued.” (our emphasis)

The LSSP, a mass “Trotskyist” organisation, the bigger that has ever existed, entered the government of the SLFP in Sri Lanka in 1964. The “mistake” was similar to what the section of the 4th International in Brazil did, entering the Lula government in 2003, but of a much greater proportion. 

LSSP’s capitulation reflected the abandonment of revolutionary principles and, in essence, Marxism. But the reason why the LSSP capitulated to bourgeois pressures was not the “result of federalism within the United secretariat”! It was because of the petit bourgeois character of the leadership of the USFI and of the LSSP. It was the result of the political and ideological degeneration of both these organisations.

What is the actual problem?

Since December 2019 a discussion is taking place among the comrades in the International leadership. The Greek, together with other comrades argue that apart from weak perspectives and political analysis the CWI also suffered from a democratic deficit. Other comrades claim that the old regime did not represent a problem, there was no real or serious problem with democracy in the CWI, the problem was “lack of centralism”, “federalism”, a “federalist drift” etc. This is described in the present document with the following words (paragraph 80): 

“…the central problem of the old international leadership was not its strength but its weakness, and not an over centralisation of the international, but the contrary.” (Our emphasis) 

So, according to the document, the central problem in the CWI was that we had a weak leadership instead of a strong one, we had the opposite of over-centralization, i.e., we were not centralized enough. The conclusion that stems from this is that what we need is a strong and centralized leadership. And that, therefore, a key task of the new leadership in the ISA is solve this problem. To provide a strong and centralized leadership not in the sense of more full timers etc, which is of course correct, but in the sense of greater “strength”. 

The defense of this proposition is actually the main purpose of this document. It is to explain to the membership that the biggest danger we face is federalism and that this federalism is so dangerous that it leads to national degeneration, which is also identified with Stalinism, Mandelism and the betrayal of the principles of Marxism. In other words, this document is asking the international to decide for a further “strengthening” of the leading center so as to protect it from the afore mentioned dangers. 

There is a problem when those who are asking for more centralization and “strength” for the leadership is the leadership itself! Particularly so when at the same time there are no proposals for democratic processes, controls and checks on the leadership.

Therefore, in our opinion, the real issue is not one of federalism or non-federalism, it is one of correctly applying one of the central principles of our revolutionary work, the principle of democratic centralism. 

Problems of “democratic centralism” inherited from the CWI 

Democratic centralism was understood in a wrong way in the CWI and this is partly reflected in the ISA as well. There is no intention to fully develop the meaning and method of democratic centralism in this document, we will only touch upon some aspects of it.

Let’s start with some examples. At the last (winter) VMU not one of the 72 sessions was devoted to the debate on neoliberalism despite the fact that this debate was still taking place in parts of the International! This was despite the fact that a significant minority (25% of full members and 33% of candidate members voted against the majority decision, and 6% of full members abstained) proposed this at the IC meeting of January 14 but were voted down. Thus, the majority refused to satisfy a claim of a significant minority which simply asked for a discussion to take place! 

The Greek comrades asked for their protest (about not having the debate) to be circulated to the leading bodies of the sections, based on paragraph 25 of the Statutes that explicitly refers to the rights of leading bodies of the sections to have direct and unhindered contact between them. But the IC majority voted against this taking place. In other words, it voted against a “constitutional” right of the Greek EC!

The majority (3/4 members) of the Editorial Board (essentially playing the role of the Executive Committee) of our section in the Spanish State, protested about the fact that the International website promote only one side of the “neoliberalism debate” and asked for this to be sent to the sections. This again never took place! 

In the course of discussions with comrades from other sections we found out that our document titled “A balance sheet of the neoliberalism debate” was only circulated to the membership of some sections up to three months after it was initially sent to the international center. In the meantime, conferences or other important meetings had already taken place without the “minority view” being available to the membership. 

These are just a few examples from one month, January 2021, of what we consider to be lack of sufficient sensitivity to different opinions and minority rights in the International. Internal democracy does not only have to do with majority votes in the leading bodies, it has to do, above all, with the respect of the rights of minority opinions in the organisation. These problems are, in our opinion, a direct inheritance from the CWI. 

What is the central point in Democratic Centralism? 

Democratic centralism is the tool by which the revolutionary party presents a united face against the class enemy and against its political enemies. But in the CWI (and most Trotskyist organisations, not to mention of course the non-Trotskyist anti-capitalist Left) it was misunderstood as the unity of the leading bodies in providing “leadership” to the membership. 

This understanding means that in practice democratic centralism can be used to actually curb internal discussion in the ranks of the organisation, which should always present as long as there is a need for it. It should not simply be up to the majority to decide if a discussion is taking place because this is dangerous for the party. 

Only under the most exceptional circumstances can it be justified for the majority to curb internal debates and apply centralism at the expense of democracy

Such would be conditions of illegality or when the party is facing mortal dangers. The Bolsheviks only took such a measure at the 10th congress, in 1921, to temporarily ban factions (but not debates!) because they were in danger of collapse and implosion. Debates in the party continued after the 10th congress.

Party apparatuses have an inherent tendency to reproduce themselves. This is documented historically and it does not of course apply only to reformist parties, Stalinist parties, trade unions, etc. It is also wrong to assume that it holds for other anti-capitalist and Trotskyist organisations, except ours. Two major, historical splits in the CWI (and many smaller others) show this to be the reality of life in the CWI from its origins. 

There’s only one factor that can protect the party against the dangers represented by the “apparatus” – and this is a very extensive democracy in the ranks! How far should this democracy go? Let’s see what Lenin says. 

Democratic centralism and the Bolsheviks

The 1905 revolution created the conditions for the re-unification of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. At the 1906 congress the Mensheviks had the majority and controlled the unified party’s Central Committee – the factions of course continued to exist. A resolution on democratic centralism of the Central Committee (dominated by the Mensheviks) said the following: 

In view of the fact that several Party organisations have raised the question of the limits within which the decisions of Party congresses may be criticised, the Central Committee, bearing in mind that the interests of the Russian proletariat have always demanded the greatest possible unity in the tactics of the R.S.D.L.P., and that this unity in the political activities of the various sections of our Party is now more necessary than ever, is of the opinion:

(1) that in the Party press and at Party meetings, everybody must be allowed full freedom to express his personal opinions and to advocate his individual views;

(2) that at public political meetings members of the Party should refrain from conducting agitation that runs counter to congress decisions;

(3) that no Party member should at such meetings call for action that runs counter to congress decisions, or propose resolutions that are out of harmony with congress decisions.” (our emphasis)

Lenin replied to this with the following: 

“…Those who drafted the resolution have a totally wrong conception of the relationship between freedom to criticise within the Party and the Party’s unity of action. Criticism within the limits of the principles of the Party Programme must be quite free (we remind the reader of what Plekhanov said on this subject at the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.) not only at Party meetings, but also at public meetings.  Such criticism, or such ‘agitation’ (for criticism is inseparable from agitation) cannot be prohibited. (our emphasis)

The Party’s political action must be united. No ‘calls’ that violate the unity of definite actions can be tolerated either at public meetings, or at Party meetings, or in the Party press.”

Lenin’s position is crystal clear. No restrictions to criticism can be accepted under any conditions, criticism can and should be free not only in internal life of the party but even in its public meetings! 

If comrades try to argue that Lenin only said this because he was in opposition to the Mensheviks (which would be unfair to say the least for the great revolutionary) all we have to do is to look at the real life, the practical experiences of the Bolshevik party and the Third International in its first period, before the death of Lenin and the rise of Stalin. After all practice is always more important than words! Let’s look at some particular instances:

  • Key leaders of the Bolshevik party had free access to the party media. Their opinion was publicly expressed without having to get the permission of any leading body. Debates in the Bolshevik party and the Communist International were continuous and public.
  • The positions of Lenin that came to be known as the April thesis initially took the form of a number of letters sent from his exile in Zurich and before arriving in Petrograd. These letters, known as “letters from afar”, were published in the party press (Pravda) which was controlled at that time by Stalin and Kamenev, as personal opinions of Lenin, with the editorial board simply noting its disagreement. [2]
  • At the time of the October insurrection Zinoviev and Kamenev expressed in public their disagreement with the Bolsheviks’ plans to overthrow the Provisional Government. This was a betrayal of the party’s plans which complicated the work of the Bolsheviks. But they were not expelled from the party, despite Lenin proposing it! And immediately after the capture of power they were given very important positions in the leadership of the party and of the international. 
  • At the March 1918 Bolshevik Congress the opposition against the signing of the peace of Brest Litovsk, led by Bukharin and the Moscow District Committee (having their own newspaper expressing the views of the opposition) refused to be included in the new Central Committee. Lenin argued against this, insisted that they should be elected on the CC and his proposal was voted by the Congress.  
  • At the time of the civil war in the years 1918 to 1921 there was an internal opposition in the red army. This opposition was public, it was producing its own (public) journal and some very good material was written by Trotsky in the context of those debates. 
  • Debate between members of the International and between parties of the international was free – in the party press and in the theoretical journals of the International and the parties (which also were public).[3]
  • Lenin’s book on “Left wing communism” was critically directed against German, British and Dutch sections (or parts/tendencies in the sections) of the International.
  • Trotsky’s “New Course” was first published as a series of articles in Pravda, criticizing the lack of democracy in the party and the state apparatus, before coming out as a book in the course of 1923.
  • Trotsky’s “Lessons of October” aimed against the Stalinist bureaucracy which had already taken hold of the party, was openly published in the course of 1924. It led to the massive counter attack by the bureaucracy and his forced resignation from his post at the head of the Red Army. Trotsky stuck to revolutionary principles and did not hesitate to pay the cost for his stand.   

These are only some of the examples one could study. This is the kind of internal democratic regime that the Bolsheviks and the 3rd International had before the victory of Stalinism! What is even more important to stress is that this culture in the party and the International existed at a time of revolution, war and civil war! Yet, one century later we are still debating if different opinions should be allowed to be expressed in the media controlled by our sections and the International, and if one out of 72 sessions in the VMU should be dedicated to the neoliberalism debate! The ISA must fight to rid itself of the wrong methods on party democracy and democratic centralism inherited to us by the CWI.

What International do we need?

We are adamantly opposed to a federalist international. An international in which parties meet once in a while to exchange ideas and then go home and do whatever each party wants, is alien to our principles. We need an international in which comrades can “intervene” in the different sections, exchange ideas, and express an opinion on whatever they choose to do so. At the same time of course the autonomy of the sections is crucial. When this autonomy crosses the borders of our principles of course, the International has to intervene. By International, we mean the whole International organisation and not just the leading bodies, the IE and IC. 

An international center is vital for revolutionary work. However, the victory of the revolution cannot be “led” by any international center. Any such conception will lead to definite defeat, even if we have the most magnificent revolutionary developments. This was also part of the misconceptions that characterized (at least some of the cadre of) the CWI – i.e., that the “great men” of the international centre were vital in the leadership of any great movement or potential revolution that might develop anywhere and at whatever time. This is simply impossible. The revolution in any country can only be led by leaders of the working class and the toiling masses in the very country. If the section has not been able to develop able comrades in the preparatory period to be able to provide leadership to the revolution, this cannot be corrected by importing cadre from outside. 

In addition, the idea of “what is a cadre” in the ISA must be corrected to mean cadres in the mass movement, i.e., leaders of the working class and the toiling masses, and not only good branch secretaries, political analysts etc. “Cadre” should not be identified only with able comrades in the party apparatus, who are of course key, but with cadre in the mass movement who must also play a central role in leading the party. Without such cadre the revolution will be led to defeat even if at the international center we have comrades of exceptional quality. 

Having said these, the authority of the leadership is of course an important factor. However, as Lenin explained this authority is not granted as a matter of fact, a priori, just because a leading body has been elected. It has to be won over a long period of time and through struggle. The higher the authority the easier the way for the leadership to be able to convince about its views. But even then, it will have to convince of its views. Any attempt by any leadership to force its views on the membership will be disastrous – because the “army” of the revolution is a voluntary force. 

Let us never forget April 1917. Lenin was in a minority in the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party. He fought patiently and persistently, and appealed to the party membership. The second line of cadre, which made up the delegates to the April conference of the party, proved more able politically than the central nucleus of the leadership, and thus Lenin was able to overturn the policy of the majority of the Central Committee. 

This was key to the victory of the Russian revolution. It was based on 3 factors: a) the “abilities” of Lenin (which were not “unique” as Trotsky and others had the same approach); b) the “abilities” of the second line of cadre built over many years of struggle, and finally c) the internal democracy of the party which enabled Lenin to fight for his views against the decisions of the majority in the leadership. 

The document lays huge emphasis as explained above on the fight against federalism. What does this mean in practice? It means that sections should not do things that are not agreed to by the leadership in the international center. That sections have to abide by the decisions taken by the international bodies. But what happens if the sections don’t agree? That is the real question, and that is avoided in the document. The only way to solve such differences is for the leadership to raise its views, allow for time to show who is correct and who is wrong, and openly admit mistakes when these happen. 

The “building” document, if agreed to, means that the leadership can demand of the national sections (or sections of the international leadership) to follow specific directions and apply specific decisions and in case they seriously question the center’s views, like with the debate over SYRIZA, or the debate over China with the Swedish section, or in theory over an issue like the “Scottish Turn”, then they could find themselves accused of federalism. Thus, instead of a patient discussion about who is correct and who is not, instead of allowing time to clarify things, the federalism accusation can easily be launched. Having established “federalism” as a “mortal sin” in the ISA, through this document, discussion will be completely diverted away from the real issues and in the direction of attacking the “federalists” for being federalists. A politically strong leadership does not need this kind of arguments to convince of its correctness. 

The International we need should not be a “copy-paste” of the CWI, either of the time of TG or of the time of PT. This model has been shown in practice to be problematic. When political disagreements developed the outcome was a split. What caused the split was the refusal of the leadership to accept that it might be wrong and to allow for time to test things out. The key factor behind the splits was the lack of democratic control over the leadership, when the latter was not able to cope politically with new developments in the objective situation. 

The attempt to create an International in which the center has a “solid grip” on everything that goes on, by pointing to “federalism” as the main enemy of the struggle to build the ISA, is bound to backfire at some point. There has never being such an international in the history of Marxism and of the working class. The 1st International, in which Marx played a predominant role, was an amalgamation of all the main currents in the working class of Europe – and to some extent of the US. The 2nd International to which Engels provided all the necessary inspiration (although he was not involved in its organizational efforts) had nothing of the kind of the “strong” center proposed by the present document. There was a continuous exchange between different leaders in different countries, until the International broke to pieces in 1914, and with different schools of thought developing in different parts of the International. The 3rd International, before the rise of Stalinism, had the most influential and authoritative leadership in the history of any previous international (with the exception of Marx and Engels personally) but still it had nothing of a monolithic character as we explain above, with continuous free exchange and debate even in conditions of war and revolution.

Democratic culture is of course no guarantee of correctness or of the maintance of unity on the principles of revolutionary socialism. But without it defeat is guaranteed. Democratic culture is the necessary precondition to be well prepared and to ensure victory in times of great events. It is also the necessary precondition to minimize the cost in times of major crisis caused by changes in the objective situation or defeats. 

Based on all the above we propose the following to be part of the discussion to take place in the next period. 

  1. Absolute freedom of exchange of ideas in the ISA. Freedom to create currents, groupings, tendencies or factions, around ideas or specific propositions, without the approval of the leadership as a precondition.
  2. The leadership (national or international) should not have the right to forbid discussion on the basis of “this not being beneficial” or “obstructing” the work of the party, if a minority claims the right to raise its differences. We must have confidence that the membership can judge.
  3. Minority opinions should be represented on the leading bodies at least on a proportional basis! No removal of comrades, who represent a different approach, from the leading bodies should be accepted.
  4. The idea that the internal bulletin (IB) and the branch are the only democratic way to conduct discussions is wrong. The IB can always be used by a majority in the leadership to delay discussion or to “burry” a different opinion under tons of other material. The idea that “we must trust” the leadership i.e., show loyalty believing they know best etc., is dangerous, given the long experience of the CWI. 
  5. The branch on the other hand is the nucleus for exchange of different ideas and the basis for the decision-making process. Decisions are taken by the branches, the elected organs and conferences. At the same time, exchange and flow of ideas must be free. We must find ways and means to enhance the exchange between the branches of a section and between branches and members of different sections. 
  6. Internet is a powerful and useful tool to deepen internal democracy in our epoch. It allows fast exchange of ideas between individuals, branches and sections. Special groups can be organised to discuss in an organised manner whatever issues they are interested in – “internal” websites, clouds, fb pages, to which members can have access, can provide a wealth of new knowledge, exchange and discussion. 
  7. Comrades elevated to leading positions should be first tested in a number of important fields, related both to party building but also in proving to be able to intervene successfully in the working class, mass movements, social movements, etc. In other words, show abilities to be cadres not only inside the party but also in the mass movement. 
  8. A very patient and very sensitive approach to differences is an absolutely vital characteristic of successful leadership. 
  9. All the above do not mean chaotic and polarized internal debates. Discussions should be structured, with beginning and end, so that in the end they are concluded and decisions taken. All this can and should take place in a comradely atmosphere. The existence of different opinions is not and should never be a problem. What is vital is for action to be united – as Lenin repeatedly stressed. This is the substance of democratic centralism.

The whole ISA must study meticulously the experience of the Bolsheviks as regard the internal regime. They have been the only party which was successful in capturing power in history! This was not irrelevant to their internal regime and to their conception of democratic centralism – on the contrary! We can draw lessons from them and apply them to the present day, making use of the superior means we have at our disposal, which enable an even deeper democracy than what the Bolsheviks had at their time. 

Once again, we urge comrades not to decide now on the “building” document, particularly the section between paragraphs 39 and 80. But to start a discussion on these issues in an organised and structured way to be part of the Review. 

We are faced with historical tasks and challenges and we need to allow for the necessary time and exchange and the involvement of the whole international.


[1]   These lines have been heavily criticised by comrades of the Majority, in the course of the International Committee meeting of February 23 to 26. It’s a fact that it can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, and if we had imagined that the comrades would attach so much importance to this, we would write a more analytical explanation. The main thing we wanted to say with our critique was that by simply referring to the working class as “international” we don’t solve any of the problems that accompany the fact that the working class does not feel to be one international unified class; in other words, we stress the issue of consciousness, which does not correspond to the objective fact that the working class is one class internationally, which means that it has common interests internationally. This distinction, between objective reality and consciousness is not of course new. In his time, Marx called on the “workers of all lands to unite” (Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!). In other words, the workers internationally were not yet united, they had to understand the need for class unity. This is also reflected in another well-known phrase by Marx in which he distinguished between the working class being “a class in itself” and being “a class for itself”. In other words, he tried to distinguish between workers being one class (with many internal divisions and contradictions of course) objectively but without being conscious of their common interests and workers being conscious of their class, i.e., being conscious of their common class interests. Class consciousness, which is linked to socialist consciousness, is of course an important element in the development of class struggle internationally, the forms and the dimensions it takes. It has been thrown back in the past few decades, the capitalist restoration in the ex-Stalinist states being one important factor in this.
[2] This point was also criticised by comrades of the majority, as being inaccurate. That only one of the letters sent by Lenin was published in Pravda instead of two that we had in mind as being the case. We accept this “inaccuracy”. The details of this are the following: the reason why the rest of the (four complete in total) letters were not published in Pravda was not due to a policy of not publishing different opinions but because they did not reach Petrograd on time (and before Lenin himself did). The first letter was published in two parts, on 21 and 22 March, and that is why there is a certain confusion about whether one or two letters by Lenin were published.
[3] The reference to the theoretical journals of the 3rd International was also criticised, by referring to the official theoretical journal of the 3rd International in which majority comrades mentioned that there was only one article by Trotsky criticizing the French Communist Party. However, what we are referring to is debates “in the party press and in the theoretical journals of the International and the parties”. That this was taking place in the International, its sections, its papers and journals, is unquestionable! We intend to come back to these issues in the next period, providing more evidence about the really lively discussions and debates that were taking place in the Bolshevik party and in the parties of the 3rd International of the time of Lenin, hoping that the ISA draws all the necessary conclusions from that experience.


Appendix 

Some short references to other issues  

In paragraph 45 we read that:

“Our answer to this political confusion is to skillfully and confidently put forward that the struggle against capitalism is international …”. 

Of course, our struggle is International. But the answer to political confusion is not internationalism as such, it’s the revolutionary program, or to be more accurate the transitional program of Marxism. Internationalism is one key aspect of this program but it is not the answer to the problem of political confusion. After all, so many petit bourgeois movements today speak of internationalism in a general sense, which however has nothing to do with a revolutionary socialist approach. 

Paragraph 63 states that: 

“The founders of the CWI started out from a single country, but with a unique ability, at that stage, to judge the world situation and develop perspectives…”  

It is of course correct that the founders of the CWI started out from a single country in the 1960s. However, the idea of the “unique ability” of some individuals implants an element of “metaphysics” in the analysis. This is a reflection of the “messianic” role attributed by individuals in the CWI and particularly to Ted G and Peter T. The International was trained to accept the supreme authority of the leading personalities, instead of emphasizing the collective character of the work of these individuals. This does not of course negate the role that individuals play, and these individuals played in particular. 

At the same time the above reference recognizes that although the founders of the CWI were a small group isolated in one country, they did not fall victims of “national degeneration” – they had an internationalist perspective and were able to build. This is correct. It shows that “internationalism” versus “federalism” is not a matter of organizational conceptions or structures, but of method of political analysis.    

In paragraph 64 we see another aspect of the attempt to attribute to specific individuals the exceptional historical role: 

“Writing in May 1970, in the ’Programme of the International’, one of our key founding documents, when Militant had no organised support outside of Britain, Ted Grant stresses the importance of British cadres learning foreign languages…”. 

The program of the international is attributed only to Ted G. However, that document was the result of collective work and understanding. At that time there was a whole generation of new cadre developed in the 50s and the 60s and was able to play a key role in the building of the international. Again, attributing such “unique abilities” to individuals leads to the creation of “messiahs” who will tend to not accept a questioning of their authority – creating the preconditions for crisis when they (inevitably) make mistakes. 

In paragraph 66 we read: 

“Compared to the situation faced by our predecessors described here, the situation facing ISA as we enter a new period, is infinitely more favourable”

The question here is what does “infinitely more favourable” refer to, to the objective or to the subjective situation? It is correct that from a subjective situation we are in a much better position than the number of sections at the creation of the CWI in 1974. However, it should be mentioned that at that same time the CWI was in contact with groups outside Britain that represented important oppositional currents in Social Democratic parties. And was thus able to grow by “leaps and bounds” (indeed) in the years that followed. From an objective point of view, on the other hand, the 1970s were a much more favourable situation than today, with repeated revolutionary waves shaking the planet (remember the reverberations of May 68, revolutionary events in Eastern Europe, Vietnam, the collapse of the military dictatorships in Portugal, Spain in Greece, etc., etc.) and providing exceptional opportunities for the CWI. For reasons of balance a reference to the 1970s from an objective point of view should be added to the above section. 

In paragraph 76 we see the following: 

“in recent years party building became seen as something for ‘national sections to worry about’, with the international leadership concentrating on the ‘politics’. The exception to this was the role of younger international FTers and IS members whose work in building and visiting sections was seen as a reflection of playing a “secondary” role by those who now lead the fake-CWI”

Without wanting to question the contribution of specific comrades to the building of the ISA today, we believe it is wrong in any document of a revolutionary organisation for authors of a document to praise themselves. We always say that one of the virtues of revolutionaries is modesty, and we should stick to that. 

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